US war planners are close to resolving a nagging dilemma.
Taliban and al Qaeda hit-and-run raids in Afghanstan from bases in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal lands have magnified in scope and brutality. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report that the only way left for NATO forces to check their momentum now is a campaign of surgical strikes against their border strongholds inside Pakistan.
The US-led coalition commanders have been forced to admit the collapse of their strategy of dotting small combat outposts manned by NATO and Afghan troops as footholds in remote corners of Afghanistan.
On July 16, NATO said the Wanat village outpost in northeastern Kunar province had been abandoned after it was breached by Taliban insurgents, who killed nine US troops and left 15 others and 4 Afghan soldiers wounded. The area has since been overrun by the Taliban, the spokesman said.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources disclose that the Wanat outpost is not the only one abandoned by US troops since the third week of June in the face of massive onslaughts by Taliban, al Qaeda and their allies.
In Kunar and neighboring Nuristan province, Taliban has forced the evacuation of most security checkpoints and outposts manned by NATO and Afghan forces.
Their brazenness and self-confidence draw on their success in seizing control of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province on the Afghan border and holding government security officials hostage for the imposition of strict Islamic law.
Pakistan’s midlevel and lowranking security forces are powerless against them.
Across the border in Ghazni province, close to the Afghan capital Kabul, the Taliban rule the streets after dark against a helpless local administrations and police.
As the insurgent writ spreads across two sides of the border, American officers are warning that each day Washington puts off cross-border military action, the Taliban-al Qaeda grip strengthens.
Last week, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen visited Islamabad to warn Pakistani army chiefs that American surgical strikes on Taliban and al Qaeda networks in the border regions were unavoidable and impending. He asked Pakistan to cooperate and take action in the North and South Waziristan tribal areas.
Islamabad unwilling to join US anti-terror effort
The Pakistan army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kiani turned Mullen down on the pretext that his request should have been addressed to the government because the army is subject to civilian authority.
A few days earlier, the Pakistan prime minister Yousuf Raza Gillani announced that all decisions about military operations were within the province of the army chief.
The American commander understood he had been given the runaround.
No one in the Pakistani capital, government or military, was prepared to join with the United States to quell rising al Qaeda and Taliban strength on their side of the troubled border.
Taliban and al Qaeda were therefore safe in escalating their assaults on NATO and Afghan government forces without fear of a backlash against their Pakistan bastions.
Should NATO jets and Predator drones embark on cross-border carpet bombing missions, military sources report they would find that the combatants had escaped the targeted areas and gone into hiding in natural caves and deep mountain gullies.
Their families and noncombatants would have gone to ground among the local inhabitants.
Commando drops to cleanse terrorist hideouts would face the risk of concerted opposition from Taliban and al Qaeda networks, backed by hostile Pashtun tribes living in the area and Pakistani military units on the side of the Taliban.
These confrontations might well spark a wave of attacks by pro-Taliban and pro-al Qaeda Islamist organizations against American, British, French and German targets across Pakistan. The Taliban would exploit the violence and mayhem to consolidate its grip on the country.